Summer has flown. Bird song no longer greets our sunrise. Many Adirondack migratory songbirds are starting to fly to their wintering grounds in Central and South America and the Caribbean islands this month. I take account of one very familiar bird I really missed this summer. Since we moved to Saratoga County in 1984, the flute-like, descending song of the male Veery ( Ve-urr, Ve-urr, Ve-urr) penetrated from our woodlands, beginning in late May and lasting well through the summer. The bird bred and raised young here for at least 25 years, and probably for centuries before that.
Veery, one of our familiar upstate thrushes, was a constant in our summer lives until this year when I only began to hear Veery in our woods in mid- July, long after this species usually nests. Its immediate habitat hadn’t changed. With this 50-acre patch of forest habitat more or less unchanged, I conjecture there were simply fewer breeding Veery in the area to fill its favorable habitat, and a non-breeding adult came to these woods late in their season. » Continue Reading.
Here are some naked eye objects for the month of August. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.
Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your naked eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.
You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for August 2011). The map shows what is in the sky in August at 9 pm for early August; 8 pm for late August.
If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!
A few new items added to the list to view this month, along with some of the previously mentioned ones from July.
Perseid Meteor Shower
This is definitely the highlight this month every year. The full moon may interfere with your view of some of the dimmer meteors but the brighter meteors should still be visible with the moon light this year. The peak of the Perseid’s is on August 12, and 13th, between midnight and an hour before sunrise, and I mean the morning hours after midnight – not that night. The meteors will be radiating out of the constellation Perseus (marked on the map link provided above), although you should be able to see them looking anywhere in the sky except towards the moon.
Jupiter starts to rise in the east at 11:45pm early in the month of August, and around 11pm later in the month. It will be the brightest object in the sky, other than the moon. NASA has just launched the spacecraft Juno which is making it’s way to the gas giant. It will take Juno 5 years to reach Jupiter.
You will need to be in a very dark location, a gray or black location on the light pollution map posted above. Uranus will be in the constellation Pisces, rising at 10pm and 9pm later in the month. May be a very hard target to spot if light pollution is present, and if it is too low on the horizon when looking.
Although it may be easier to view later in the night around midnight or later – The Andromeda Galaxy cataloged as M31 is visible to the naked eye in the northeast. The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way lying about 2.5 million light-years away. If in a dark enough location the light produced by this galaxy is roughly the diameter of 5 moons in our sky.
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the naked eye. M34, which you may need to wait until around 11pm for it to be high enough to see is nearly a moon-diameter wide and is a fairly easy to see open cluster.
Messier Object 7 (M7) is an open star cluster near the stinger of Scorpius is a small, hazy patch known since antiquity. Visible enough that the Greek astronomer Ptolemy cataloged it. M6 an open star cluster is nearby to the north of M7 and is a little smaller and fainter. M6 is also known as the Butterfly Cluster.
M8 is an open star cluster and nebula complex, also known as the Lagoon Nebula . Visible to the naked eye as a small hazy patch. Bright enough that it is visible even in suburbia. It may look small with the naked eye, but it is actually quite large nearly two moon diameters across. I’m not sure if any of the other objects are visible to the naked eye, although Sagittarius is a beautiful sight as it lays in the Milky Way.
The Great Rift is a non-luminous dust cloud that can be seen splitting the Milky Way in two separate streams. It stretches from Aquila to the constellation Cygnus although it is more prominent in the constellation Aquila.
Messier Object 13 (known as M13) is a globular cluster. It will have a small hazy glow to it.
North America Nebula (NGC7000) – The unaided eye sees only a wedge-shaped star-cloud which may be quite dim, or not visible at all. In dark skies it should pop out a bit. Located near the star Deneb. M39 an open cluster patch of stars northeast of the star Deneb. The Northern Coalsack spans across the sky between the stars Deneb, Sadir, and Gienah in the northeastern portion of Cygnus. If you don’t know which stars of Sadir and Gienah just find Deneb with the map and look to the east northeast.
Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.
Photo: Picture of the planet Jupiter from NASA’s Solar System Exploration. Bottom, the radiant of the Perseid Meteor shower from a screenshot of astronomy freeware Stellarium.
Biting insects are the price of admission for playing in the backcountry of the Adirondacks. But this year these pests seem to be more plentiful and ferocious than in years past. This is particularly true for the blood-sucking scourge known worldwide as the pesky mosquito.
Last month I experienced the large number and ferocity of mosquitoes first hand during an eight-day trek within the remote interior of the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks. Saying mosquitoes were plentiful would be a vast understatement given the near-Biblical proportions of the blood-suckers encountered there. » Continue Reading.
As August progresses, numerous subtle signs in nature arise, indicating that the change in seasons is approaching. Yet, of all of the sights, sounds, and smells that characterize the latter part of summer in the Adirondacks, few elicits as unappealing a response as the appearance of the communal shelters used by the fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea).
During the first week or two of August in the Adirondacks, the silken tents of the fall webworms become conspicuous enough for people driving along a highway, walking through an open hardwood forest, or biking on a backcountry road to notice. These unsightly masses of thin white fibers are woven by over a hundred tiger moth larvae that live inside them and are always placed on the very end of a twig of a preferred tree, like a cherry or willow. » Continue Reading.
The Paul Smiths VIC will continue the tradition of hosting the Adirondack Wildlife Festival on August 6 from 10 AM to 8 PM. There will be presentations on all creatures great and small, from Bears to Salamanders, live music with Roy Hurd, storytelling with David Fadden of the 6 Nations Indian Museum, Mark Manske’s bird on hand demonstrations, fun and games, visits to the butterfly house and a special presentation on Loon Conservation in America by Dr. Jim Paruk.
Current schedule of activities includes: » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Lakes Summer Theatre Festival continues its second season with an encore performance of stage director Peter Brook’s work performed in the Great Hall at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. After performing two sold out performances at St. Williams on Long Point, Conference of the Birds returns due to popular demand at a much-reduced cost. With a single performance on August 8th at 8 pm, audiences will get one last opportunity to see this production.
The storyline of the play focuses on a nation of birds in crisis. Urged on by one of their flock, the Hoopoe, they chart a path to find their king. Above all, the Hoopoe tries to help them conquer their fear of life as the stage becomes an astonishing aviary. Through masks, dance and song, this beautiful adaptation of the 12th Century poem comes to life in a magical evening of theater. Appropriate for all ages. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is encouraging New Yorkers to participate in the Summer Wild Turkey Sighting Survey, which kicks off in August.The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking New Yorkers to participate in surveys for wild turkeys.
Since 1996, DEC has conducted the Summer Wild Turkey Sighting Survey to estimate the number of wild turkey poults (young of the year) per hen statewide. Weather, predation, and habitat conditions during the breeding and brood-rearing seasons can all significantly impact nest success, hen survival, and poult survival. This index allows DEC to gauge reproductive success and predict fall harvest potential. » Continue Reading.
By Diane Chase Camels, lemars and bears, oh my! Nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks, Adirondack Animal Land is located near Sacandaga Lake in Fulton County about 10 miles north of Amsterdam on Route 30. Though the physical entrance is listed as Gloversville, the 80-acre zoo stretches across the Blue Line. Over 500 animals wander around, some freely, some not. The mix is from the common mallard to the more exotic lemur with Highlander cattle, Dromedary camel and Adax antelope rounding a list of animals that we are curious to see.
It is hard to know where to begin when we enter Adirondack Animal Land but I trust my children are going to make sure we see “everything there is to see.” Things to know: The 45-acre safari ride is included in your admission but hold onto your admission tickets because you can only go the one time for free. Only cash is accepted so bring your ATM card (there is a machine onsite). Signs everywhere indicate that all the admission proceeds benefit the care and feeding of the animals, veterinary care, educational programs, special breeding programs and upkeep of this privately owned zoo.
While on the safari ride we are followed uncomfortably close by a camel. The large animal is chewing and looking ready to projectile spit. I move from the back sacrificing the children to any flying saliva.
There are many other animals mixing and mingling but the charmers of the group are the baby potbelly pigs. We learn that all zebras have different markings and see ostrich, buffalo and about 90 other animals I can’t begin to remember.
There are plenty of opportunities to feed the animals but do not bring your own food. There are rules and regulations regarding public feeding of animals to ensure that the zoo animals maintain an appropriate diet and nutritional needs.
There are other opportunities like gemstone mining or pony rides but we pass by to enter the 1800s western-style town. My children wander through each building while my husband and I rest at one of the picnic tables. Bringing a lunch is encouraged as long as you remember not to feed the animals.
The fee is not unreasonable for an all day activity ($13.75/adults and $10.75 for children) and there are online coupons to shave a few extra bucks off the entrance. We are always of the mentality that if we have to pay for an activity; we are going to make the most of it. So when the doors open at 10:00 a.m. we are there to greet the staff and if possible they are sweeping us out the door at closing.
Sitting around a campfire after dusk, it is sometimes possible to catch sight of a small rodent bounding across a section of the forest floor that is illuminated by the glow of the flames or a bright moon. Similarly, a small creature may occasionally be seen in the headlights of a car leaping across a road like a frog, but at a distinctly faster pace. The chances are that both these sightings are of the woodland jumping mouse, a small rodent that is fundamentally different from the species of mice that begin to enter homes and camps toward the end of summer.
On those rare occasions when one of these common forest dwellers is seen around a lean-to or tent, it can be easily mistaken for a regular mouse, as both rodents are nearly identical in size and have similar body shapes and facial features. The jumping mouse however, has a set of hind legs slightly larger than those of a regular mouse. These rear appendages are better adapted for catapulting its body forward when it wants to quickly escape a location. The jumping mouse is known to bound up to three feet at a time, which is ten to fifteen times the length of its body. Along with traveling in a straight line, the jumping mouse can also hop in a more erratic manner, making it more of a challenge for a predator either on the ground or from the air to grab it while it attempts to reach a place of safety.
The most conspicuous physical feature of the jumping mouse is the extraordinary length of its tail which can approach twice the length of its head and body. The tail of a normal mouse is roughly equal to or slightly greater than its body length. The much longer tail of this rodent often becomes noticeable when it is hunched up, nibbling on a berry or a favored mass of fungi which it has just unearthed from the uppermost layer of soil.
As its name implies, the woodland jumping mouse inhabits forested settings, especially where numerous ground plants and shrubs cover the forest floor. This mammal also shows a preference for wooded glades where the soil remains moist in summer. Lowlands along the edges of marshes and swamps, or places where natural drainage is poor and water seeps into the soil rather than runs off, are ideal locations for this abundant creature.
Because the jumping mouse prefers to forage under the cover of darkness, this rodent is not as likely to be seen prowling the forest floor as a chipmunk. Also, since it rarely utters any sound, there is little to draw a person’s attention to this mammal’s presence.
As August arrives, the jumping mouse begins to increase its intake of food. This is partly the result of longer nights for foraging, and an increase in the berries, ground dwelling bugs, and maturing fungi upon which it feeds. The excess food consumed as summer wanes is stored as fat. While a normal mouse begins to amass caches of food around this time of year for use in winter, the jumping mouse relies on its fat reserves to carry it through the colder months.
Unlike other mice, the jumping mouse lapses into a state of true hibernation as its food sources dwindle. After it retreats into a chamber deep in its burrow, the jumping mouse experiences a drastic drop in its body temperature as does the woodchuck and many species of bats.
In the Adirondacks, the jumping mouse is known to begin its winter dormancy as early as the middle of October. This is the time in the autumn when berries and bugs become limited in availability. While small seeds may still be present for this rodent to pick up from the forest floor, the new layer of dead leaves on the ground covers them and makes them harder to find.
Also, a fresh, dry carpet of dead foliage makes it harder for the jumping mouse to remain inconspicuous as it forages. The faint noise created by a mouse as it rustles through the dead leaves may be difficult for a person to hear, but it is more than adequate to alert any predator in the immediate area that a potential meal is active nearby. By slipping into a dormant state until conditions on the ground improve for it in mid spring, the jumping mouse is able to deal with the adverse conditions over the next 6 months.
As the moon develops in brightness over the next few weeks, an evening out in the woods may reveal periodic glimpses of this unique rodent which is active around most campsites here in the Adirondacks.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Tom Kalinowski has written several books on Adirondack nature.
The news that a mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway had migrated more than 1,500 miles from South Dakota raises an intriguing question: could the cats return to the Adirondacks someday?
The short answer: “someday” is a long way off.
Christopher Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, said it took twenty years for cougars from the South Dakota’s Black Hills to establish a small population (thirteen adults) in the Nebraska panhandle—just 120 miles away.
“It might take them forty years to get to Minnesota,” he said. “If you project that eastward, you’re talking a century before they get to the Adirondacks.” » Continue Reading.
What follows is a guest essay from the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership (AFPEP).
Bald eagles are the largest bird species that nest in the Adirondacks but they are just one of 220 species of birds that reside in the Adirondacks or pass through during fall and spring migration. 53 species of mammals and 35 species of reptiles and amphibians also make the Adirondacks their home.
Due to the vast size, unique habitats and geographic location of the Adirondacks many species of wildlife are found nowhere else in New York or are in much greater abundance here. Birds such as the Common Loon, Spruce Grouse, the Black-backed Woodpecker and the Palm Warbler; Mammals such as Moose, Otter, Black Bear and American Marten; and Reptile & Amphibians such as Timber Rattlesnake and Mink Frog. » Continue Reading.
David Stradling, Professor and Graduate Studies Director at the University of Cincinnati, is author of The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State. This recent (Fall 2010) survey of over four hundred years of New York’s environmental history has received praise from historians and environmental policy experts.
From the arrival of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon in the estuarial waters of what would come to be called New York Harbor to the 2006 agreement that laid out plans for General Electric to clean up the PCBs it pumped into the river named after Hudson, this work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State. David Stradling shows how New York’s varied landscape and abundant natural resources have played a fundamental role in shaping the state’s culture and economy. Simultaneously, he underscores the extent to which New Yorkers have, through such projects as the excavation of the Erie Canal and the construction of highways and reservoir systems, changed the landscape of their state. Surveying all of New York State since first contact between Europeans and the region’s indigenous inhabitants, Stradling finds within its borders an amazing array of environmental features, such as Niagara Falls; human intervention through agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization; and symbols, such as Storm King Mountain, that effectively define the New York identity.
Stradling demonstrates that the history of the state can be charted by means of epochs that represent stages in the development and redefinition of our relationship to our natural surroundings and the built environment; New York State has gone through cycles of deforestation and reforestation, habitat destruction and restoration that track shifts in population distribution, public policy, and the economy. Understanding these patterns, their history, and their future prospects is essential to comprehending the Empire State in all its complexity.
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The Paul Smith’s College VIC has issued their schedule for the remaining summer season. The VIC is located at 8023 State Route 30 in Paul Smiths. For more information about the events listed here or the VIC in general contact Brian McDonnell at (518) 327-6241
July 29 – August 28: “Life on the Lakes” Juried Art Show
The Paul Smith’s College VIC has asked Caroline Thompson, Executive Director of The Arts Council of The Northern Adirondacks, to be the juror of our first juried art show. Artists from around the region have been invited to submit their works for consideration. The Opening Reception will take place from 5 to 7:00 PM on July 29th in the Great Room of the VIC. In addition to the juror selected awards, a “People’s Choice” selection determined through visitors voting for their favorite artist’s work. The balloting will be a fundraiser to support the development of art programming at The VIC. July 30 – NOLS Comes East
The National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, Wyoming, has utilized the Paul Smith’s College VIC as its eastern outpost for the month of July. NOLS is the recognized leader of “hard skills” in outdoor education and recreation. Come listen to Jack Drury, a former NOLS instructor and well known outdoor educator, give a historical perspective of NOLS followed by a presentation by Adirondack based NOLS logistics coordinator Lindsay Yost on plans for NOLS coming East with their wilderness programs.
August 6: Adirondack Wildlife Festival
The Paul Smith’s College VIC will continue the tradition of hosting the Adirondack Wildlife Festival on August 6 from 10 AM to 8 PM. There will be presentations on all creatures great and small, from Bears to Salamanders. We’ll have live music with Roy Hurd, Native American storytelling with David Fadden of the 6 Nations Indian Museum, Mark Manske’s bird on hand demonstrations, fun and games, visits to the butterfly house and a very special presentation on Loon Conservation in America by Dr. Jim Paruk, The Director of Biodiversity Research Institute’s International Center for Loon Conservation and Research. August 12: Mindfulness Meditation Yoga Walk
Mary Bartel, ERYT, of Inner Quest Yoga and Wellness Center, will lead a silent walk from 10 AM to Noon to awaken your senses and participate in gentle flowing yoga movements on the trails at The VIC. Preregistration is required. The fee is $25. August 13: Joe and Jessie Bruchac
Father and son Abenaki singers and storytellers, Joe and Jessie will perform their Native American themed stories and music in the Whispering Pines Amphitheatre at The Paul Smith’s College VIC at 2 PM. Sponsored by the Adirondack Center for Writing.
August 19: Adirondack Plein Air Festival Paints the VIC
Come out to the VIC on Friday August 19th to view artists in various locations around the VIC. The public is welcome to visit artists as they create art on the trails and in the woods. Three of the Plein Air artists have donated paintings to the VIC to raise awareness of the festival and to generate funds for the center. We thank them for their generous commitment to growing The Arts presence at The VIC. We will sell tickets at the front desk. The drawing will take place at the Plein Air Festival. August 28: Monarchs in The Meadow
The benefit concert will start at 2 PM, and outdoor fun all afternoon for friends and families of the Paul Smith’s College VIC. Join us in the meadow next to the butterfly house to celebrate the migration of the Monarch butterfly and wind down the summer in style.
Regular programs and Activities:
Check out the goods under the pavilion from local farmers on Fridays from 2 to 5 PM.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC Butterfly House
The popular butterfly house is open and staffed 7 days a week from 10:00 to 4:00 PM throughout the summer. Visitors can view native butterflies up close and learn about the life stages and migratory patterns of these colorful insects. The Butterfly House is made possible with significant support from the Adirondack Park Institute (API.) For more information contact The VIC at 327 – 6241.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC Fun Runs – Every Wednesday
Every Wednesday of the summer The Paul Smith’s College VIC offers Free Fun Trail Runs from 6:00 to 7:30. Join area runners on the great trails at The VIC. Sarah Keyes will talk training, nutrition and techniques for adding distance to your running.
First Sunday Series of Trail Races
The “First Sunday” Series will continue with a “Predator and Prey 10K” on August 7. Every month the distance for the First Sunday Series will progressively increase. September 4th we will offer a 15k Trail Race and on October 2nd we’ll offer a 13.1 mile half marathon. There will be also be a 5k option every month. “First Sunday Series” Trail Races begin at 9:00 AM. Register: www.active.com Sponsors include Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, Mac’s Canoe Livery and Paul Smith’s College. For more information contact The VIC at 327 – 6241.
Naturalist led Back Country Paddles – Every Tuesday of the summer.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC offers a guided back country canoe trip every Tuesday of the summer. Trips are suitable for families. MAC’S Canoe Livery, in Lake Clear, will furnish the boats and equipment. Trips meet at The VIC at 10 AM and return by 4 PM. Trip fee is $75 for adults. Reservations are required. For a complete schedule, more information or to make a reservation for these popular trips 327 – 6241. Explore the Adirondack ALPS – Every Thursday of the summer.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC offers a series of day hikes up the “Adirondack Low Peaks” in close proximity to The VIC. Trips meet at The VIC at 10 AM and return by 4 PM. Trip fee is $50 for adults. For a complete schedule, more information or to make a reservation for these popular trips, contact The VIC at 327 – 6241. Naturalist led hikes and paddles at The VIC – Every day of the summer
Come explore nature at The Paul Smith’s College VIC! The trails are open and free to the public all the time! To enhance your experience, join one of The VIC naturalists for an investigative two hour hike in the woods or paddle on the waters of The VIC. Groups meet at 10 AM and 2 PM daily. Trip fee is $20 for adults. For a complete schedule, more information or to make a reservation for these popular trips, contact The VIC at 327 – 6241. “Fun with Fungi” Mushroom walks
The Paul Smith’s College VIC will host naturalist led mushroom explorations on the trails and in the woods of the 3000 acre VIC campus. Come investigate “anything fungal” with mushroom specialist Susan Hopkins on Thursday, July 21, and August 4. We will meet at the VIC Visitor’s Building at 10:00AM for an introduction on what you might expect to see at this time of year; followed by a two hour walk of identification and collection. After the walk we will return to the center and those interested can sort out and discuss the various fungi collected on the tour. Susan will explain the various field guides and simple keys she uses to identify the various local mushrooms. The Fun with Fungi Interpretive Workshop is $20 per person. Preregistration is required. Yoga on the deck at The VIC
Jackie Foster, RYT, will lead sessions on the deck at the VIC to awaken your senses to the natural world. Wednesdays through 8/31 from 9:30 to 10:45 AM. $15 per session
In recognition of the importance of forests to the health and well being of society, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced a contest to celebrate New York’s forests. The contest is designed to increase awareness of and appreciation for all types of forests, urban and rural, large and small, public and privately owned, across the state.
“The value of our forests cannot be underestimated,” Commissioner Joe Martens said in a prepared statement. “In addition to providing clean air, clean water and places for wildlife to live, thousands of people are employed in the forest products, outdoor recreation and tourism industries, thanks to New York’s wealth of forest.” In the 19th century conservationists recognized the importance of nature as a refuge from the noise and bustle of city life. Modern technology has disconnected many people from the outdoors. Virtual pastimes now rival natural, outdoor activities. Taking and sharing pictures is one of the most popular activities in this country. Through this contest, New Yorkers are encouraged to reconnect with the natural world.
Submitted photos should capture all aspects of forests and trees in five different categories:
Contest details, rules and necessary forms can be found on DEC’s website.
Photos must be taken in New York State. Photos will be accepted through November 1, 2011. A maximum of three photos may be submitted by a photographer, each with a submission form found on the DEC website, via e-mail or on a CD via regular mail. DEC has non-exclusive rights to use submitted photos on DEC’s website, in the Conservationist magazine, in brochures and in other publications promoting forests and DEC. The photographer will retain ownership of the photo.
The winner in each category will receive a framed print of their photo. Winning photos will be announced on or about December 1, 2011.
Photo: State Forest Boundary Sign Near Ticonderoga (John Warren Photo).
While working around the house this summer, it is not unusual to notice the papery nest of a wasp tucked under the eaves, hidden behind a loose shutter, or placed in some other protected spot. While an encounter with this type of structure may temporarily disrupt a painting project or home repair work, such a sanctuary is vital to the summer success of these familiar yellow and black insects, and should be left alone if at all possible as wasps play a role in helping to control the populations of numerous insects, spiders and other bugs.
Out of an entire summer colony, only a few females that are born in late summer with adequate stores of fat are capable of surviving the winter in the Adirondacks. After abandoning their nest and mating with a male, these individuals typically burrow into the soil, or seek shelter inside a thick, hollow log that will eventually become buried by snow.
During mid spring, when conditions improve, these females emerge from their winter dormancy and begin to search for a sheltered spot in which to construct their papery nest. By chewing on softened pieces of partially rotted wood, and mixing this mass with chemicals in their mouth, the females, known to some as queens, fashion the mixture into a sheet that dries and forms a grayish papery substance. Initially, a small collection of hexagonal cells are produced to house the first eggs laid by the fertile female.
It takes about a week for the eggs to hatch into the tiny, worm-like larvae which remain within the papery walls of their nursery. Because the larvae require a diet high in animal protein, the matriarch of the colony goes in an almost constant search for small insects and other types of invertebrates to appease their appetite.
It takes almost two weeks before the immature wasps are ready to enter the pupa stage, and then nearly two more weeks before the transition into an adult wasp is completed. During this period, the female may add more cells to her infant colony and lay more eggs in order to increase the number of individuals that eventually will inhabit the nest.
By the start of summer, her first in a series of adult offspring emerge from their cells. All of these are females, and they instinctively assume the various chores that must be carried out to maintain the colony. The fertile female eventually settles into the role of simply laying eggs in cells constructed by the recently hatched workers.
During the early summer, wasp colonies are relatively small and contain only a limited number of females. As the number of residents increase, the colony’s need for small insects and other bugs to feed the developing larvae increases correspondingly.
While the larvae require a diet rich in protein, the adults need fluids that contain a high caloric content. Nectar from flowers and juices that develop within fruits and berries, like raspberries and blackberries, are traditionally sought out by adult wasps when they want to satisfy their own hunger.
As summer starts to wane in another few weeks, the fertile female slows the rate at which she lays eggs within her paper covered nursery. Since the increased number of worker wasps now has fewer larvae to feed, their search for bugs eventually turns to a search for the more sugary items that they favor. (In late summer, wasps prefer visiting a table with an opened can of soda, a cup of fruit juice, or some flavorful topping dripping from a burger rather than picking aphids or caterpillars from plants in a garden.)
As the fertile female’s source of sperm dwindles, she will lay a few eggs that fail to become fertilized. These eggs still hatch, but the resultant wasps have only a half set of chromosomes. These individuals are males, and their sole purpose is to mate with those females with an excess of fat in their system that are capable of surviving the winter.
While wasps are noted for the painful sting they can inflict, these insects do help the environment by controlling bug populations. Destroying a papery nest in mid summer before the individuals that can survive the winter develop could impact a wasp population in an area. This in turn allows other bugs the freedom to propagate with fewer checks on their numbers. A simple rule that I try to follow whenever I encounter a wasp nest while painting is: leave the painting project until next spring and go out on the lake.
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